Wander Franco, baseball’s top prospect and a natural short stop, will play third base in his major league debut, a logical move by the in-transition Tampa Bay Rays.
Third Base has been a position in flux on the Rays roster ever since the trade of Evan Longoria to the San Francisco Giants many years ago.
In 2020, the Rays attempted to fill that void with Japanese star Yoshi Tsutsugo; however, the pandemic shortened season prevented a settling in to Major League Baseball. By the end of season and throughout the playoffs, Rays utility defender Joey Wendle had claimed the position for his own.
Wendle has again in 2021 held the lion’s share of reps at third base, now in a platoon with Yandy Diaz, but various injuries to Ji-Man Choi have sent Diaz to first base more often.
And although Wendle’s bat has been extraordinary with a 134 wRC+ on the season, thanks to two separate hot streaks, his lack of walks and typical lack of power (Wendle has seven homeruns on the season thus far, matching a career high) make it an odd fit long term for the position.
Wander Franco may have his own question marks in terms of in-game power, at least in the near term, but every other aspect of his game signals a once-in-a-generation talent. He might not play every day to start his career, but it’s time he got his reps, and Joey Wendle will not stand in the way of the Rays making that a reality.
#Rays Wander Franco (left), with team interpreter Manny Navarro, understandably excited to be here at the Trop in the majors. Said his expectations are to keep working hard, help the team win and eventually become a superstar pic.twitter.com/uo1wK0gcWE— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) June 22, 2021
And so the 31-year old Wendle will make way for the 20-year old Wander Franco, this first player born in 2001 to make a major league roster.
As for the position, Wander Franco will move to third base instead of short stop, and rightfully so. It just so happens that baseball’s best farm system had a need to promote a shortstop earlier this season (following the trade of Willy Adames) and it appears the Tampa Bay Rays chose wisely in selecting Taylor Walls.
A product of Florida State, Walls already ranks third in the majors among short stops in Defensive Runs Saved (6) with only 203.1 innings played. The league leader Isiah Kiner-Falefa has 9 DRS over 628.2 innings. Already dubbed the “Infield Kiermaier,” the likewise switch hitting Walls needed very little time to entrench himself.
In a potentially cheeky move, at his promotion, Taylor Walls selected the No. 6 jersey for himself, perhaps knowing Franco had already been assigned the No. 5 when he was on the taxi squad last season. Whatever the case, fans should have no problem scoring which players made which outs
This is why, in addition to the 30 games Franco appeared at third base, the wanderkind has also played ten games at either third base (7) or second (3).
The other curiosity in Wander Franco’s promotion today is not only where his is on the field but where he is in the lineup.
At his promotion Wander Franco is hitting at what is likely the most important spot in the lineup, and Kevin Cash had a pretty clear reason why:
As for hitting him 2nd, the #Rays Kevin Cash said, "We're all about keeping buys comfortable and he's never hit past third as far as I know so we're going to keep him up there."— Neil Solondz (@neilsolondz) June 22, 2021
I might quibble and suggest third is a lower leverage place than second in the order, at least according to The Book, but batting second is better than him not batting at all so I’ll take it.